Daniel Ciobanu: The Savage Ivorist
In December, 2019, my wife and I were able to get tickets to see the Bucharest Symphony at the incredible Romanian Athenaeum Theater. Little did we know that, in addition to witnessing a fabulous symphony orchestra, we would see a special guest, a gentleman named Daniel Ciobanu, who would play the piano during the second of four movements scheduled that evening. Daniel’s performance was beyond words, so much so, that in addition to being brought out four times following his performance to take bows, he was asked to play an encore in the middle of the show while the members of the Symphony sat there, mesmerized, similar as each member of the audience. Daniel was incredible. I hope, one day, you have the chance to witness his brilliance at the keys . . .
Daniel Ciobanu is an extraordinary piano virtuoso who shapeshifts from delicacy to devilry, conjuring up pure emotion from even the most hardened of hearts.
A few decades ago, as the country of Romania languished behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union, imaginations slumbered. The human spirit and its lavish expressions in the arts, music, and humor dulled under the weight of an oppressive regime. Everything seemed cloaked in dark iron-gray, the signature color of the Eastern bloc. The harsh times had suspended joy in favor of survival.
In 1989, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe gave rise to uplifted hearts. The human spirit freed; artistic expression would at last awaken. One soul, in particular, would come to embody a reincarnation of legendary master musicians. His talent for interpreting masterworks would not be limited to classical pieces alone but would also manifest with touches of jazz and ragtime. Spellbound audiences delight in his intricate weaving of grace with willful, even forceful striking of the keys. He is no less than a one-person renaissance, and his name is Daniel Ciobanu.
A Family Legacy
“It all started with my grandfather’s intimidating passion for music, and more specifically, church organ music, which surrounded most of my childhood,” says Ciobanu. He was appointed by his grandfather to inherit the makeshift organ he’d fashioned from an old baby grand piano during the communist era. Grandfather kept his family in beautiful music during the tough soviet decades by building a family band, a quintet composed of his rigged organ, two violins, and a couple of accordions. When Ciobanu’s father was unable to take the musical tradition forward, the young lad was handed the torch. His father departed from the family for almost ten years working abroad, to enable the young boy access to private lessons and afford an instrument to practice and develop his skill.
As the universe is a temple of wonders, here is another example. During his time away from home, Ciobanu‘s father worked in Israel for many years on building sites. Eventually, his father earned enough to buy his son an upright piano, a real instrument Ciobanu could practice on since his progress was rapidly increasing from lesson to lesson.
As years passed and Ciobanu‘s skill became refined, the young boy became a man. His career ultimately became established by winning one of the leading top-five international competitions, the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. It happened to take place in Israel, the same land where his father spent so many years laboring to provide his son with all the tools required to succeed. If only his father had known that his years spent toiling under strenuous conditions would result in his ultimate dream coming true. By seeing his young boy become an international concert pianist, maybe his labor of love in an austere landscape would have lightened his load.
Impressively, this same competition ignited an incredible chemistry between Ciobanu and the world-renowned conductor, Omer Meir Wellber, after performing together in the final round of the competition. Wellber is now nurturing and invites the young pianist to do concerts together in the most prestigious halls around the world.
Ciobanu started taking piano lessons at nine years of age. His first instructor was a woman named Cosma Magdolna, who wisely knew how to keep a young child sitting attentively in front of an instrument for more than a few seconds. She piqued his interest (and talent) by showing him the endless possibilities of creation with the piano instead of insisting on only technical studies. This approach had a magical effect on young Ciobanu. “She managed somehow to bring such pure passion and love to the music-making process and the approach of playing piano, that I really was under a spell by the characters and sound world-excursions in which she would take me through the lessons. She really forged my personality both at the piano and outside. One of a kind!” he says fondly.
Inspiration Begets Greatness
Once inspired by what the piano could create, Ciobanu began listening to innovative artists like Horowitz, who conveyed emotions by cultivating masterful techniques and personal expression. He also loved Rubinstein with his lyrical and romantic style and Volodos, who stretched the boundaries of imagination and virtuosity. Admitting that Prokofiev’s music is one of his favorite playgrounds, one can identify some strong traits of sarcasm, wild elements, provocative attitude, and a boiling tension that reside in this pianist’s personality.
A New Braveheart in Scotland
After winning a scholarship to study in Scotland, Ciobanu learned from eminent teachers Aaron Shorr, Petras Geniusas, and Steven Osborne. He later graduated from the illustrious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland before continuing his studies abroad at École Normale de Musique in Paris and Universität der Künste in Berlin under the tutelage of Pascal Devoyon.
“Once a Century” Brilliance
By absorbing these influences and steeping them with his creative genius, he has established himself as a wunderkind, much like the rebels Mozart and Prince. It takes daring, intelligence, and once a century talent to make unforgettable performances stay in the hearts of audiences worldwide and Ciobanu does precisely that. One quick read of an audience and music critics’ reviews will convince you that he is the one concert that cannot be missed; if one is to live a full life.
John Humphreys, Chairman of the Dudley International Piano Competition, describes him as “A name to be shouted from the rooftops … a young man whose staggering virtuoso credentials easily match those of the young Horowitz, Cziffra and Rosenthal … this guy goes the extra quarter mile … an easy confidence, coruscating brilliance and gay (in the old sense of the word) abandon with ear, heart and mind in perfect alliance … unforgettable.”
The World Bedazzled
His audiences are not just contained in Europe, either. Ciobanu has traveled the world many times over leaving venues and participants begging for his return. He has accompanied and enhanced such prominent ensembles as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Polish and Romanian National Radio Symphony Orchestras, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and Gewandhaus Leipzig Orchestra. He has graced the stages of countless theaters from Brazil to Israel, Japan, sought Africa, Morocco, and the United States, to name a few.
For Ciobanu, his goal of taking the stage with happiness in his heart has become realized in full measure. Expressing the heights of human spirit and abilities with his nimble hands touches people in unexpected ways. After one concert in London, an elderly gentleman suffering from severe depression approached Ciobanu with rapturous joy in his eyes and thanked him for his music. It was the first time the man had felt happiness in years. The two wept together at the wonder of it.
During his short career, Ciobanu has already received showers of awards and recognitions. Among these are the 1st prize at the UNISA International Piano Competition in South Africa, 1st prize at BNDES International Piano Competition in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the Silver Medal and Audience prizes at the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. He holds the distinction of being the first to win a clean sweep of all top prizes at the Morocco Philharmonic International Piano Competition, including the 1st Grand Prix, Public Prize, and Orchestra Prize, with a unanimous vote by jury for the top prize.
Full Expression the Only Challenge
Ciobanu has peered into the font of human creativity and seen how vast the possibilities are. His only frustration is finding enough quiet time and peace to devote to his own original discoveries and contributions in between his touring, his fierce hobby of painting, and as the organizer of a yearly international festival in his hometown of Piatra Neamt which he has done the past few years. If ever there was good reason to give this talented man a month to himself in his cave, there it is. Imagine the wondrous new worlds that could be unleashed by his wizardry!
Arguably, Ciobanu’s genius was only exceeded by his grandfather’s in that he chose his successor so well. I like to imagine grandfather Ciobanu looking down from heaven with a delighted look on his face as Daniel’s tickling of the ivories floats aloft to greet him. When Ciobanu achieves his life’s goal of retiring to a remote island, perhaps his grandfather might drop by now and again to perform a duet.
The rest of us will have his captivating concerts playing in our hearts, striking new chords of inspiration. Learn more about Daniel Ciobanu’s story at danielpetricaciobanu.com.